New summer exhibition

Gallery features artists in their own image

Ken Currie and 2006 work Unfamiliar Reflection at end of corridor (pic by Terry Murden)
Ken Currie and 2006 work Unfamiliar Reflection at end of corridor (pic by Terry Murden)

A new exhibition opens this summer at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery showing the way artists have created works using their own image.

From Rembrandt’s famously unflinching treatment of his ageing reflection to Ai Weiwei’s politically charged use of social media, artists have chosen a multitude of strategies to portray themselves, for reasons ranging from self-promotion to the questioning of the self.

Facing the World draws on the strengths of three outstanding European collections, and is a collaboration between the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Lyon’s Musée des Beaux-Arts in France and Karlsruhe’s Staatliche Kunsthalle in Germany.

The exhibition brings together many images, some of which will be unfamiliar to British audiences, and includes works by a wide range of European artists including Jan Lievens, Antoine Watteau, Allan Ramsay, Henry Raeburn, Edvard Munch and Henri Matisse, together with those of Modern British artists such as John Bellany, Alison Watt and Ken Currie.

The exhibition spans six centuries, with the earliest work included being a black chalk drawing by the Renaissance artist Palma Vecchio (1480-1528) in which the artist turns his head to observe himself in a mirror, attracting the viewer with his direct gaze.

Provocatively and playfully the American artists Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) used their series of self-portraits to alter their identities and take on various roles, making use of costumes, wigs and makeup to alter their image.

Mapplethorpe’s 1980 Self-Portrait and Warhol’s Self-Portrait with Platinum Bouffant Wig (1981) were taken in the last decades of both artists’ lives and are striking examples of how role-playing became a central aspect of their creativity.

Portrait 2

In more recent years, the high profile Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (b.1957) pioneered the use of selfies among artists.

Christopher Baker, director of the Gallery, said: “The incredible quality and range of works in this major European exhibition will be a revelation. It addresses the fundamental issue of how artists have chosen to present themselves to the world from the seventeenth century to today, through a staggering array of imagery, which displays prodigious technical and expressive achievements.

‘Facing the World’ is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival runs from 16 July to 16 October

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